The All Blacks career of the most prolific coach in test rugby history is over.
Graham Henry announced today he is stepping down at the age of 65, just nine days after securing the Rugby World Cup for New Zealand.
After eight years and a world record 103 tests in charge of the All Blacks, Henry today said in typical fashion he had "had enough". He had coached 140 tests in total, which had "taken its toll".
At a press conference at his Auckland University club he had resisted the overtures of overseas clubs and unions and would stay in New Zealand. He was in discussion with the New Zealand Rugby Union, looking at the possibility of a role mentoring other coaches at Super Rugby and provincial level.
Henry said he was "incredibly proud" of what the team had achieved under his watch, thanking all the players he had coached in the black jersey, saying they had left a "special legacy". He singled out long-term captains Richie McCaw and Tana Umaga for special praise.
He told his players of his decision on Tuesday last week, at a private team function the night before their final parade in Wellington.
"I am also exceptionally proud of how they have developed an extremely professional and enjoyable culture and environment, and how they have reached out to people of all ages and put a smile on their faces, both here in New Zealand and overseas," Henry said.
"(Fellow coaches) Wayne Smith, Steve Hansen, Mike Cron and Mick Byrne are quality men and all outstanding in their individual coaching roles."
Hansen is heavily favoured to now climb to the top job and Henry endorsed him today, saying he had the experience and nous to maintain the team's success. He said continuity was crucial at the elite level of the game.
Henry also thanked those in his management team over the eight years and officials at the NZRU who had been supportive throughout.
Since taking charge, Henry's All Blacks have claimed five out of eight Tri-Nations titles, completed Grand Slam tours in 2005, 2008 and 2010 and swept the 2005 British and Irish Lions.
He thanked his mother and wife Raewyn before going on to say his All Blacks tenure had been a huge privilege.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew paid tribute to Henry.
"He leaves the All Blacks job as one of the greatest coaches in the game, his record is unsurpassed and while he will now get time to spend with family and friends, and the odd bit of fishing, we are delighted that Graham is still going to be involved in New Zealand rugby," Tew said.
"He has a great relationship with the country's professional coaches, as well as other coaches, and he still has so much to offer the game and it's fantastic that up-and-coming New Zealand coaches will continue to benefit from his vast knowledge."
After successful stints with Auckland and the Blues and then overseas with Wales and the British and Irish Lions, Henry succeeded John Mitchell as All Blacks coach following the failed World Cup campaign of 2003.
His first test in charge was against England at Carisbrook in June, 2004.
The All Blacks won that and went on to win a world record 88 tests during his reign while losing just 15 - a remarkable record in the modern game.
His redemption as All Blacks coach was complete when the national side held off France 8-7 to win the World Cup on October 23.
It came four years after the All Blacks bowed out in the quarterfinals of the 2007 tournament, also against France. Despite a widespread call for his axing, Henry was retained ahead of main challenger Robbie Deans.
Soon after victory at Eden Park on October 23, the man affectionately known as "Ted" said he could at last enjoy some inner peace.
However, he and Hansenhave one more coaching role this year. They will coach the Barbarians against Australia at Twickenham on November 26.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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